Access to quality pre-kindergarten (PK) programs varies widely among and within states. While PK enrollment is growing, large disparities in access and quality threaten to undermine the capacity of early childhood education to close achievement gaps. Research shows that at-risk children can catch up to their non-disadvantaged peers by participating in high-quality PK programs that are linked to K-3 structures. However, fewer than half of children ages 3 and 4 engage in some type of early childhood education—before quality is taken into account.
Standards and instruction must be aligned from PK through Grade 3 to maximize the advantages of preschool. achievement gains from preschool “fade out” over time if not followed with a high quality, aligned elementary school program. For PK to be most successful, it is best followed with a high-quality elementary school education that draws on the teaching and learning that provided in the PK classroom.
The federal government and states currently are involved in expanding access to preschool, but coordination is limited and standards are uneven. The main federal investment in early education is through the Head Start program, but Head Start services reach less than half of eligible children. School districts can also use No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) Title I program funds for pre-kindergarten programs, but most districts choose to target limited funds on elementary grades. State-funded PK programs operate in 38 states, but there is little alignment of program characteristics or teacher entry standards across states.
|Author(s)||New America Foundation|
Child Development, Policy Briefs, National Context, Learning Standards